Matthew Lombardi

Matthew Lombardi on the comeback trail

In some of the best NHL news we’ve heard in a while, newly acquired Maple Leafs forward Matthew Lombardi is making progress in his recovery from the concussion he suffered at the beginning of last season. At this time last year, many people (including myself) were looking at Lombardi as one of the best offseason acquisitions of the summer. His speed and underrated ability to score looked like a perfect fit for the Nashville Predators and their brand of hockey. What we didn’t know was that he was going to suffer a season-ending concussion on October 13th in Chicago when he, Dave Bolland, and the United Center boards all came together at the same time.

In the ten months since the concussion, Lombardi has seen his new team battle for a playoff spot, win their first series and franchise history, and battle the President’s Trophy winning Canucks in a hard-fought 6-game series—all while he was in the press box. Eventually, the speedy center’s time in Nashville was over as soon it started. Lombardi was traded with Cody Franson for Brett Lebda and Robert Slaney in a trade that can only be adequately termed as a salary-dump. The Predators were forced to give up Franson in order to get rid of Lombardi’s $3.5 million cap hit over the next two seasons. With his health in doubt, the Predators couldn’t afford to take the risk of $3.5 million sitting in the press box. It’s a gamble the Maple Leafs could afford to take.

If Lombardi is able to fully recover from his concussion, the trade will look like a steal for Burke and the leafs. Judging by a tweet from Darren Dreger yesterday, there’s reason for optimism:

“I’m told Leafs forward Mathew Lombardi is making progress. May not be ready for start of season, but isn’t far off… assuming no setbacks.”

Lombardi is only one of the major risks the Maple Leafs have taken on this summer. On the second day of free agency, Toronto went out and acquired often-injured free agent Tim Connolly from the Buffalo Sabres. The former 5th overall pick in had 13 goals and 29 assists in only 68 games for the Sabres. The 68 games is important—it’s the second highest total for Connolly since the lockout. Even though he was a durable forward for the New York Islanders early in his career, he only averaged 50 games per season in six seasons with the Sabres.

If Connolly can replicate the 65 points he scored in the 2009-10 season, it’ll go a long way towards helping the Leafs cure their offensive woes. They were 23rd in the league with only 2.60 goals per game; they were 22nd in the league with a relatively ineffective 16.0% power play. The guys over at the Maple Leafs blog Pension Plan Puppets seem to think the team will need a little more than just Lombardi and Connolly to compete this season:

“Ho boy! Two 50-point scorers on our top 2 lines? They’d fit right along with our…(checks stats) two 60+ point and two 55+ point players already there….hmmmmmm. Now don’t get me wrong, Connolly is absolutely an improvement over Bozak at the 1C position, but to imply that two 50-point players are what the Leafs need to finally get over the hump, one of which isn’t even skating, well that’s just silly. Especially considering that Joffrey Lupul was on pace for a 52-point 82 game season in a Leafs uniform, it’s going to take more than the addition of a 50-point 1C to get this team into the playoffs”.

There are things that Toronto management can control in the offseason and there are things they can’t. They made the calculated risk to bring in Connolly as a free agent and trade for Matthew Lombardi from the Nashville Predators. If they both can stay healthy, the two veteran acquisitions will be a boost to a team that desperately needs a few centers. Or top 6 forwards. Or both. The news that Lombardi is progressing should be greeted with cheers from all over Leafs Nation. If he can contribute this season, he’ll be a perfect fit for a team that would like to play with speed.

Here’s to hoping his rehab continues without any major setbacks.

Hitch’s recipe for more goals is a pretty simple one

Ken Hitchcock, David Backes, Dmitrij Jaskin, Paul Stastny, Patrik Berglund
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Ken Hitchcock wants the Blues to spend more time attacking and less time defending.

Because hockey isn’t rocket science, that’s why.

“To score and win games in the National Hockey League…you have to spend as much time in the offensive zone as you can,” Hitchcock told the Post-Dispatch.

“When you’re occupying the offensive zone more, you’re forechecking more. When you’re occupying the offensive zone more, the goalie has to make saves. They’re having to defend more. And the opposing team takes penalties on you. So they’re all connected. … What I want to see from us is staying on the puck for longer stretches.”

According to the stats, the Blues have not been spending as much time in the offensive zone as we’re used to seeing from them. In fact, in their last 20 games, they rank in the bottom third of the league in score-adjusted Corsi. That compares to their first 20 games when they were in the top third.

The result is fewer shots, and more importantly, fewer goals. The Blues have fallen all the way to 25th in offense, averaging just 2.37 goals per game. Last year, they finished fifth (2.91).

Yes, some of that may be due to the absence of Jaden Schwartz, and he should be back soon. But there’s a reason people are watching GM Doug Armstrong as the Feb. 29 trade deadline approaches. This team could probably use another piece up front.

The Blues host Minnesota Saturday.

St. Louis has scored just five goals in its last five games.

Goalie nods: Lindback ‘really excited’ for first start in almost three weeks

Anders Lindback
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Tonight in Anaheim, Anders Lindback will make his first start for the Arizona Coyotes since Jan. 16.

The Coyotes have been riding rookie Louis Domingue since just before Christmas, but Domingue has allowed five goals in each of his last three starts, including last night’s 5-4 loss to Chicago.

Lindback’s last appearance came Tuesday in relief, when he allowed one goal on 10 shots in a 6-2 loss to the Kings.

Lindback was in goal for one of Arizona’s three victories this season over Anaheim, stopping 33 of 36 shots in a 4-3 overtime win on Nov. 9. However, his .896 save percentage ranks among the lowest in the league.

Frederik Andersen is expected to start for the Ducks.

Elsewhere…

— No word yet on a Penguins starter in Tampa, but Ben Bishop will go for the Bolts.

Cam Ward will start for the Hurricanes in Winnipeg, where Connor Hellebuyck is expected for the increasingly desperate Jets.

— Joonas Korpisalo was solid last night in Vancouver, but the Blue Jackets have not announced their starter for tonight’s game in Calgary. Karri Ramo will be in goal for the Flames.

A ‘pretty solid two-way player,’ Sundqvist to make NHL debut for Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins' Oskar Sundqvist (49) collides with Minnesota Wild's Jason Zucker (16) in the first period of a NHL preseason hockey game in Pittsburgh, Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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The latest Penguins injuries, these ones to Evgeni Malkin and Eric Fehr, have led to an opportunity for Oskar Sundqvist.

Sundqvist will make his NHL debut for the Penguins tonight in Tampa. The 21-year-old center has five goals and 11 assists in 39 AHL games this season.

“Sunny’s a pretty solid two-way player,” coach Mike Sullivan said, per the Tribune-Review.

“I don’t think he’s going to dazzle you with flashy plays, but I think he’s a guy who plays the game the right way. He’s hard to play against because of his size. He’s got a long reach, and he’s got a good stick.”

Sundqvist was selected 81st overall by the Pens in 2012. He’ll become the fourth player out of that Pittsburgh draft class to make his NHL debut, after Olli Maatta, Derrick Pouliot, and Matt Murray.

Veteran Matt Cullen will replace Malkin on the second line, skating with wingers Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel.

Related: Nick Bonino out ‘at least a month’ with hand injury

John Scott’s wife gives birth to twin girls

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As if John Scott wasn’t already having a great week, now he’s the proud father of twin girls.

The Montreal Canadiens shared the good news via their Twitter account today.

Scott, the unlikely 2016 All-Star Game MVP, is currently back home in Michigan; however, he’s expected to resume his career at some point with Montreal’s AHL affiliate in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

When, exactly, he suits up for the IceCaps remains to be seen, but it won’t be tonight or tomorrow.

Related: Therrien on Canadiens possibly recalling John Scott: ‘You never know’